Lost in Translation: The Wesen of Grimm

It’s been a while since I started watching NBC’s Grimm, and as you can see from the lack of comments for it in the What’cha Watching Wednesday do I still have a lot of catching up to do regarding the last few episodes. Still, the more I watched, the more I was inclined to ramble about their usage of German terms and names for all the supernatural going ons in the series. (And as I am currently a bit stuck when it comes to write new stuff I felt like finally finishing this draft from last year.) As I mentioned in my Grimm-Review do they use quite weird and often grammatically incorrect names for their Wesen and I’d like to talk a bit about what the names really mean and what they should have been called to turn the names/terms into proper/actual German.

This is of course not meant to offend anyone involved in the show, but as a German native that really likes the German language, this just bugs me whenever I watch the show and they use it.

In my review I already talked about the fact that if the actual Brother’s Grimm had anything to do with the naming of the Wesen, their works would not have become literary classics. In fact I do even believe they would turn over in their graves, if they knew about some of them; especially Jacob who worked on the first German dictionary until he died. I know hearing/reading some of them made my skin crawl…

But let’s have a look at the different words, so you can form your own opinion.

Wesen

While this most used term is grammatically correct it is totally mispronounced.

No German-native would understand it. It took me a while to do so at least and I had to read it at some point before it made sense to me.
The way the cast pronounces it, the word means “whose” not “creature”.
They add an extra “s” to it and make it a (possessive) question [wessen], rather than a noun…
[From the Review]

The word sounds quite different in German as the focus is on the E and not the S and the S in turn is one of those buzzing S’s instead of the sharp ones (In German we learn the different pronunciation of them by comparing them to bees – summen/buzzing and snakes – zischeln/hissing).
So, in a way it is actually pronounced more like you would start to pronounce WEst and SENse, just with a much shorter and less melodic first E and a buzzing S.

And if you are now totally confused by this explanation: Feel free to check Leo.org for a computer reading or contact me to personally tell you the difference. 🙂

By the way: The German term not only means creature, but also refers to the nature of things, like if you say someone is kind/nice/lovely (in nature), you could say that s/he has a liebenswürdiges Wesen. So regardless of the verbal usage does the term fit perfectly for creatures whose true nature can only be seen by certain people.

Now that we cleared that one up, let’s have a look at the actual Wesen used in the pilot.

Blutbad

The name of the most prominent Wesen makes little sense, especially in regards to the plural.

Blutbad is the German term for bloodbath.
Blutbaden however doesn’t really exist…
The Blut would still be blood but the baden…well it does suggest that it is the action of bathing in blood, making the translation bathing, but that does not really make sense.
So basically [for them] the plural of a bloodbath is the action of bathing in [blood].
[From the Review]

Well, the actual plural of Blutbad is Blutbäder, but they don’t really like those silly dots above the A either, but I will get to that in a later guide.

But the German version doesn’t really make more sense either – they changed most of the names to turn them into proper German, but it doesn’t work all the time:

[Blutbad and its plural] Blutbaden became [both] Blutbader (Which would more or less translate to Bloodbather – someone who is bathing in blood. Trying to find a translation for bader I discovered that there was a medieval profession by that name, someone that had some kind of medic role for the poor people[, but it is highly likely that they did not mean this]. Look for “Barber Surgeon” for more information.)
[From the Review]

So we now have these three version – I skip the other languages, as I’m not the right person to cover them – that all have to do with blood and bathing, but even though they cause bloodbaths and they need blood as nutrition, I still think there would be a more fitting name, probably something with wolf (Wolf)…

Hexenbiest/Zauberbiest

While the name for this second (or third?) most used Wesen in the show is technically correct it does sound a bit weird.
Hexe (Witch) itself is already occasionally used as an insult beside the obvious usage to describe magical women, but Biest (Beast) also refers to something ferocious (when used for humans it usually refers to females, where Biest means something like a minx – if I’m not mistaken) and/or monstrous, so it is a bit doppelt gemoppelt (the same thing said through different words – you might remember a case of this from the famous “Assbutt” used in Supernatural).

Zauberbiest on the other hand doesn’t make sense. It’s one of those halfway through names that seem to lack some letters. Zauber can refer to a (certain) spell or enchantment, while Zauberer means Sorcerer. To make this one the male counterpart for Hexenbiest it therefore should have been Zaubererbiest. Well, actually Hexerbiest would be the male version as Hexer is the version of Wizard/Warlock that has as negative a connotation as Hexe. The original name also sounds more like a magic creature than a magic user, even more so in English: Spellbeast.

Either way are their official plurals wrong, as the plural of Biest is Biester not Biests and using the English plural (beasts) doesn’t really fit – even though Hexenbiester sounds pretty fun and like a really mean clique of girls…

Well, both sound ridiculous and they probably would have fared better to simply call them Tote Hexe (Dead Witch)/Toter Hexer (Dead Wizard/Warlock) because of their looks…

Hässlich

This is another thing that bugs me: They aren’t consistent in naming the creatures.
While the majority derives from nouns some get a more or less descriptive adjective as a name.
In case of the Hässlich its name literally translates to ugly – which they are, but well who would want to call themselves that? (It is by the way interesting to see that the Wesen accepted and use the names given to them by the Grimms – maybe some of them told the Grimm the name they came up with for themselves, but we haven’t really heard about the creation of the names – at least not to my knowledge)

As hässlich is an adjective creating a plural is difficult, so how do we call more than one Hässlich?
We call them Hässlichen.
You know as in: Die Geschichte vom hässlichen Entlein (The Fairy Tale of the ugly duckling).
It’s a declination, yet without a noun it doesn’t make sense to a German native. Technically, hässlich doesn’t either, but you can point at something and say it’s ugly without saying the things name, but usually we use hässlich in combination with Viech (critter) or other derogatory terms (hässliches Viech – again declined).

In German they are, by the way, called Rattentroll, a combination of rat(s) and troll. Technically this is a specification of what kind of troll it is, as in Gebirgstroll would be the mountain troll, making the rat(s) (Ratten is the plural of Ratte, but it is also used to say things are rat-like – rattenhaft) the descriptive element of the name. Though while this sounds a bit nicer I don’t think they have a lot in common with rats or are otherwise affiliated with them. It also implies that there are other races of trolls, but that does not seem to be the case.
So: Nice try, but still not really fitting.

Depending on when this thing was named – in-universe – they might have just called it a Troll.

Skalengeck

Like Wesen the pronunciation of this name gets an additional letter, here it is an L, at least that’s what it sounds like to me. Other than that is this name a mistranslation.

A Skale is in English a scale, yet not the one you can see on the Skalengecks skin – or on other reptiles for that matter – but the one used for measuring things. The word one would be looking for in German would be Schuppe.

Geck on the other hand is a bit more difficult. On the one hand it is an old word used for fashion-interested people (fop/dandy), on the other hand it might be a shortened version of Gecko the name of the little reptiles/lizards. The latter makes more sense, as Skalengecks don’t seem to be that fashionable.

So correctly translated they might have been called: Schuppengecko(s).

In German they call them Natterngecko(s) that refers to their reptilian like appearance by combining the German names for Colubrids (Nattern) and Geckos. It does fit quite well, though I’m not entirely sure that they are capable of clinging onto walls like their little reptilian namesakes and their snake-like features end with the tongue…

References and Notes

Well, that’s it already.
I hope you enjoyed this little excursion into the usage of my native language in this particular television show.

My major source for names and appearances of the different Wesen is this  Grimm Wikipedia and obviously my experience with the show itself. (Did I ever mention that I really like Wikipedias? Oh, yes, I did.)

As you can see from the title is this post part of the Lost in Translation-series. If you’re interested check out what other shows toy with the German language or culture. If you watch/ed a series or movie where German was/is involved, let me know and I will check out if they have done it justice.

Do you have a Wesen or phrase you want covered? Let me know and I’ll make sure to add them in one of the next parts.
Otherwise I’ll just keep going through the episodes adding the new Wesen (Wesen is by the way both the singular and the plural for creature) to the list.

PoiSonPaiNter

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3 comments

  1. This is fascinating! I took a little bit of German in high school, but I remember almost none of my lessons. I assumed Grimm had gotten a lot of it wrong though. 🙂 It’s really interesting to learn what’s wrong and why, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.
      I wasn’t entirely sure if anyone would even be remotely interested in this, so I’m really glad you like it. 🙂

      It’s always hard to keep practising a language you no longer have lessons in. I have the same problem with Russian. But maybe through following this series you’ll remember some of your lessons. 🙂 (If you’re interested there is some other German stuff on this Blog, just take a look around.)

      Like

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